Paisley Oregon is known for a couple of things; their annual mosquito festival, and Paisley Caves. With the co-operation and support of the Bureau of Land Management, the University of Oregon has built an international team of scientists to study the archaeology within the caves. Origer’s Obsidian Laboratory has been working with this team since 2005. This summer we returned to the caves to work on on-going research regarding obsidian hydration in cave environments.
For those who haven’t heard of Paisley Caves, it’s a pretty exciting site. Several finds in the site suggest some of the earliest human occupation in North America. What has probably received the most publicity are western stemmed projectile points and coprolites that have human DNA dating to about 13,200 calendar years ago.
Our involvement has been in looking at the obsidian from the site. More specifically, we are exploring the issue of how the cave environment influences the development of hydration bands. Our original analysis provided some counter-intuitive results; for example the interiors of the caves were typically cooler at noon than at midnight. Why? The caves face generally west, and get little sun before mid-day. From noon until sunset they get full exposure and the rock absorbs heat. From sunset, through the night the heat is radiated into the caves from the rock, pretty neat.
Our current research is geared at understanding what happens in the caves in three dimensions. We have deployed about 100 temperature sensors to establish what the temperature is doing at various depths, and from the front of the caves to the back. With those data we will be able to see what is happening with the temperature, which will help us understand the hydration measurements, which will help understand the dating of the deposits in the cave.
Many thanks to Dr. Dennis Jenkins of the University of Oregon for allowing us access to the work site during his field schools. That kindness has saved us hours, and given us a chance to meet his amazing students, who work cheerfully through some tough and demanding circumstances.